Letter from the editor

Small Home Gazette, Winter 2011

Letter From the Editor: neighbors in the winter

Old Man Winter.Bungalow neighborhoods change in winter.  The streets become quieter, fewer kids playing outside, fewer dogs barking, no cars stopping at the corner to share their music through open windows.  In the quiet of winter, we lose track of our neighbors behind piles of snow.

One spring, my next-door neighbor emerged from her home carrying an infant.  In rare sightings during the previous winter, bulky warm coats hid her pregnant belly.  Like a bear, she had denned down in hibernation and gave birth in the cold and darkness, emerging in spring with her young.

We might see less of our neighbors when the snow blows, but every snowfall that calls out the shovels is an opportunity to define who we want to be as neighbors, an opportunity to maintain a walkable community for kids and adults heading to and from their bus stops, or dog owners faithfully exercising their pets.

Earlier this winter, three of my neighbors put shoulder to bumper and rescued me from the snow bank left by a passing plow at the alley’s end.  The frustration of having my car stuck in the snow and being late for work melted into a feeling of appreciation for my neighbors, whose scarves seemed to fall about them like the capes of super heroes.

And during the 17-inch December snowstorm, I needed to dig out my car to move it for plowing.  Half way to free, my car was buried anew by the plow with even heavier snow. My neighbor, out shoveling his walk, came over and helped dig me out.  As I drove away, he walked down the street to make sure I could turn the corners and get through the alley.  I returned his kindness with homemade jam and holiday cookies.

In that same snowstorm, a friend of mine wandered the streets of his neighborhood, looking to assist stranded drivers with a push—an extreme approach to being neighborly.   When heading to the bus stop or from the light rail, I sometimes have to walk in the street to avoid shuffling through shin deep snow on sidewalks or having to scale snow mountains at street corners.  When I can return to a clear sidewalk, my annoyance is replaced by gratitude to the neighbors who provide an unimpeded journey.  I am particularly grateful to those neighbors who live on corner lots and their unflagging efforts to dig body-wide cutouts through five-foot-high snow banks and provide access to the alleyways.

I used to have a next-door neighbor who would clear my 40-foot sidewalk with his snow blower when a heavy snow fell.  I never once saw him do it.  When I shoveled, I’d return the favor clearing his walkway in a light snow or cutting a narrow path if it was deep.  My snow angel has long since moved, but he left me with the gift of gratitude.  Now, when time and energy allow, I shovel part or all of my next-door neighbors’ walks, a small kindness to them and passersby.

Mostly, winter is quiet.  Clear sidewalks, a snowman with a crooked smile, smoke blowing away from chimneys, and glimpses into warmly lit homes before curtains are pulled in the evening.  These are the telltale signs of neighbors who we’ll see again in spring and together create the hum of neighborhood.